Change needed to help preschoolers with mental health issues

What do you picture when you hear that a child has been kicked out of school following a series of disruptive behaviors? My guess is that you’re imagining a troubled teenager. But that expelled student is three times more likely to be a toddler.

While that statistic might be startling to many, those of us who work in the early childhood education and health sectors have long been familiar with the challenges young children face in systems that were not designed to recognize or treat their unique emotional and mental health needs.

As a preschool director, I am encouraged by the recent efforts of Orange County’s Early Childhood Mental Health Collaborative. The collaborative is a new organization committed to creating system changes that address behavior concerns, underdiagnosed mental health issues, high expulsion and suspension rates, and other related needs of pre-kindergarten students.

As a member of the Children and Families Commission of Orange County I am encouraged with our participation in the collaboration and our partnership with other organizations that includes the Regional Center of Orange County, Children’s Home Society of California, the Orange County Department of Education, and Children’s Hospital of Orange County, to design a pilot program to address suspension and expulsion rates in pre-kindergarten childhood settings, to identify children in need of intervention at an earlier age, and to connect families, teachers and caregivers with early childhood mental health consultants and the training…

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